CAIRO — Americans working for pro-democracy groups in Egypt have been ordered to stand trial on criminal charges of receiving illicit funding, a move certain to further strain relations between Washington and Cairo’s ruling army generals.
The provocative decision by investigating judges comes as the U.S. has threatened to suspend $1.3 billion in annual aid to the Egypt’s military. It also highlights the widening divide between Washington and one of its closest allies at a time of political upheaval across North Africa and the Middle East.
The Associated Press reported that judges have ordered that 43 people — 19 of them American—be prosecuted for allegedly violating laws governing funding for nongovernmental organizations working in Egypt. One of them is believed to be Sam LaHood, the Egyptian director of Washington-based International Republican Institute and son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
The younger LaHood and other Americans working for the IRI sought haven last month at the U.S. embassy for fear that they might be arrested after a a travel ban was imposed on Employees at two other U.S. based groups—Freedom House and the National Democratic Institute—are also under investigation.
The judges’ ruling came a day after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Egypt of possible consequences if the matter is not resolved.
“We are very clear that there are problems that arise from this situation that can impact all the rest of our relationship with Egypt. We do not want that,” Clinton said in Munich, where she had met Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr.
“We have worked very hard the last year to put in place financial assistance and other support for the economic and political reforms that are occurring in Egypt and we will have to closely review these matters as it comes time for us to certify whether or not any of these funds from our government can be made available under these circumstances.”
Egypt’s military leaders, like deposed President Hosni Mubarak before them, have long been suspicious of pro-democracy groups working in a country that even after last year’s revolution and the election of a new Parliament remains a police state. The army has suggested that nongovernmental organizations, many of which they describe as “foreign hands,” have instigated protests and politic al unrest.